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Review and Excerpts: Settle the Score / Hustle Play by Tara Frejas

Settle the Score

College senior Garnet Figueroa lives and breathes basketball. A reliable asset to her varsity team, she is equipped with the skills and smarts to get the De La Sierra Lady Hunters closer to this year’s championship title. But Garnet soon finds out that her good friend (and long-time crush), cheerdancer Charles Crisostomo, is being cheated on by his girl, and she lets her emotions get the best of her.

Will she be able to come up with a game plan to save herself from heartbreak before the buzzer signals Game Over?

Hustle Play

Running on pure adrenaline and working with game strategies is something a basketball player like Garnet Figueroa is trained for. On the court, she is unbeatable. Off the court… that’s a completely different story.

Because falling in love is trickier than a ball game, and Garnet finds herself fumbling over her feelings for Charles Crisostomo. The fact that her attention gets divided between him and rival school hard-court hottie Chris Barcelo doesn’t help.

Or does it?

***

Review

You can never go wrong with a Tara Frejas book. I love Garnet and Charles, and I love how Frejas explores the changes in their dynamics from Settle the Score to Hustle Play. Plus it’s a male cheerleader and a female basketball player! Set in the Philippines! If you live here too, you’d have an idea how intensely invested Filipinos are to both sports, especially on the collegiate level, and the switch from the usual gender assignments brings a new layer to this sports-oriented, friends-to-lovers romance. I really wish Frejas will write more stories from this universe 🙂

Read an Excerpt from Settle the Score Continue Reading

Writing Now

#FeelsFest Recap. The Day Was Aptly Named

You’d think after #AprilFeelsDay, #FeelsRushIn and MIBF I’d be immune to the waves of emotions brought about by each #romanceclass Feels Day. You would think. But like every fresh listen to a song or  instance of a kiss, each time is different from the last. There is always something new, a new feeling to discover.

ATM. #feelsfest #romanceclass #supportfilipinoauthors

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Last Saturday, October 22 was #FeelsFest, and for this there were new activities, new gimmicks, some tweaks in the experiment. There were old friends to hug and new faces to meet and enjoy the day with. There were also games and amazing prizes, and more stickers, shirts and other merchandise too. We even had a photo booth of sorts thanks to the funky visual aids and a very photogenic brick wall.

ATM. #feelsfest #romanceclass #supportfilipinoauthors

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#feelsfest loot! 😍 #Romanceclass

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There were also new books. A lot of new books. 20 or so titles lovingly created and launched by the authors (raises hand) in five-minute intervals.

Feelings for sale. #FeelsFest #romanceclass

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But before that there were the live readings. We have this every time. These performances always comprise the highlight of each event. But as with everything else, the readings were not only unique per book, but were also distinctive of the actor performing (they’ve been assigned their own tropes, by the way. Don’t tell them). Even the same actor who’s done this for us many times could still surprise us and throw us into a fit of squeals and high jumps. I’m looking at you, G. Thank you/love you.

Moments during the live readings. ❤️ #romanceclass #FeelsFest

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To the Authors & Storytellers you guys are awesome! Thanks for the feels. #polexplores #romanceclass #feelsfest

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If you weren’t there, here’s a big hug. Because if you like books, romance, and feelings, cute actors and authors who are always always happy to see you, you really did miss a lot. Make sure to drop by next time, yes?

If you were there, here’s a big hug too. Big big hug. Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my overflowing heart. Thank you for picking up our books, for reading them and talking about them. For loving our book people the way we do, and sharing your love to others. I came into this community with a weird J-dorama book and not much of a clue what I signed up for. I still am not sure what I signed up for sometimes, because #romanceclass people are crazy HAHA. But it’s the kind of crazy that keeps me on the edge, exhilarated as I anticipate the next thing, and the next. Because I know there will be feelings, and more awesome new things. There will be surprises, and escalation. And when we squeal and jump again it will be louder and higher than the last.

Pahabol photos from Saturday's event, part 1. With Ron, Jay, and Six. ❤ #romanceclass #FeelsFest

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It is my pride and privilege to call this bunch of authors family. #romanceclass

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***

#FeelsFest happened on October 22, 2016. 12-6pm, Glorietta 5 Atrium. Live readings featured actors Gio Gahol, Rachel Coates, Gab Pangilinan and Herv Alvarez, and books by Stella Torres, C.P. Santi, Ines Bautista-Yao, Ana Tejano, Dawn Lanuza and Mina V. Esguerra.

 
#romanceclass is a community of romance authors and readers, founded by author/publisher/Queen of Feels Mina V. Esguerra. To check out the growing list of our books, go to romanceclassbooks.com. Check out our podcast here too, and then the videos below for a more visual explanation.

Book Review

Review: If the Dress Fits by Carla De Guzman

Martha Aguas kind of has it all–she’s an accountant who loves numbers, an accident-prone puppy that loves her, and the perfect wardrobe.

Yes, she wears a dress size 24, her bras don’t fit and she’s never had a boyfriend, but so what?

It becomes a big deal when her perfect cousin Regina announces her engagement to Enzo, the only boy she’s ever loved (he doesn’t know, so don’t tell him!) Suddenly Aguases from all corners of the globe are coming for the event, and the last thing Martha wants is to be asked why she still prefers her lattes with a waffle on the side.

Thank god for Max. Goofy, funny, dependable Max, who finds himself playing the fake boyfriend at the family festivities. But why does it feel like only one of them is pretending?

***

Martha won my heart from the first page. Here is a girl who is strong, smart, efficient (favorite), warm and loving. Who is able to look a hefty serving of freshly cooked fries in the face and think “I want you,” and feel no shame. She loves her body, and despite moments wherein her confidence wavers, she owns it, and she knows she doesn’t need to be a size zero to look amazing.  And then there’s Max, her hot, bookish veterinarian best friend. If those words strung together are not enough to get you, know that he is sweet and wonderful and he cares for Martha the way she needs to be cared for. He is protective of her without the machismo. He sees through her and calls her out when she’s a little less honest with herself. But not all the time, though, and not in all the ways that matter, cos otherwise we won’t have the delicious conflict and the tightly strung tension between them.

Then there’s Enzo, the teenage dream, the theater crush. I kind of had a wall up against him from the get go (maybe because we’ve been hurt by theater crushes a lot these days hehe), but I learned to like him in all his imperfect glory.

I loved the titas, the dog, the cousin, the mom and dad and the sister, even the office people. I wish I got to know Regina a bit more, why she turned around the way she did. But it’s okay. At times, the number of the supporting characters made me feel like I was a stranger thrown into a friend’s family dinner party, and introduced to the lot of them all in one night. But they were a lovely, crazy bunch. And it was easy to pick out things that I myself would hear in my own family dinners. (This, by the way, fortified my belief that there really is a Pinoy tita/lola code somewhere. Where is that code book? Maybe let’s burn it hehe)

Read it because it’s a heart-warming story brimming with girl power and body positivity without being weighed down by angst. Read it because Max is lovely and he quotes Mr. Darcy. And because Martha is the kind of girl you’d instantly root for, and she makes it easier for you to do so because she fights for her own happiness.

***

Get your ebook on Amazon, and paperback on Feels Fest!

 

Writing Now

Happy Book Birthday, Shinta! Songs to Make You Stay is Live <3

I agonize over writing a lot (normal), but it took me more than a few months to finally decide and write this book. As far back as last year (soon after releasing Songs of Our Breakup), my friend/fairy godmother Layla and I had been plot-bunnying about this. It was supposed to be Miki and Shinta in one book, in alternating perspectives. But then I thought, ‘no, what a mess that would be.’ Also they deserved more than that <3 So Miki got his own book, Songs to Get Over You. Now Shinta has gotten his, and they share the same timeline.

Although I thought I left him and Jill in a happy space in Songs of Our Breakup, I also knew it wasn’t going to be easy for them. Because long distance relationship. And celebrity problems, on both sides and in different ways.

So yay, here you go. Here’s Shinta’s story. I hope you’ll enjoy spending more time with him like I did. Happy book birthday, Shinta*!

Songs to Make You Stay (Playlist #3)

Love isn’t supposed to be this hard.

Now that he’s finally won Jill, the girl who’s always rocked his world, you’d think life would be heaven on earth for Shinta Mori. In a way, it is. But maybe he’s underestimated the fact that he’s a hunky movie star in Japan while his girl is ruling the indie music scene all the way in Manila.

When he spends a long-awaited vacation with her–through impromptu performances, frenzied flyer distribution, and unhinged radio guestings–he realizes how imperfect his seemingly perfect life is. And he begins to wonder if what they have is strong enough to survive years of being apart.

Can Shinta prove he’s worthy of the spotlight the universe shines on him? And more importantly, deserving of the devotion of a young girl in love?

Cover design by Tania Arpa. Photography by Hazel Caasi, featuring Yuki Sakamoto.

Available on Amazon. Paperback launching on #romanceclass FeelsFest. Also available via this form.

*Happy birthday to you too, John Lennon!

 

 

Writing Now

A Day in the Friendzone. November 17, Monday, afternoon, one year ago

This is a companion short story to Miki‘s book, Songs to Get Over You.

***

“That girl?”

“Nope.”

“The one to her left? Pink sweater, legs that go on for days. Wow.”

“I’m pretty sure I can’t.”

“How about her friend?”

“Too bulky…”

“Mikhail. Are you a weight-ist?”

“No!” Miki shrank back at the laser beam glare Jill shot at him. He put both palms up and rushed out his explanation. “I actually think she’s pretty and perfectly rounded in the right places.”

They were sitting on the gnarled wooden bench in the College of Economics front lobby, slumped on their seats, limbs in lazy angles, trying to wind down after a full day of classes. Jill pulled herself up to the straightest line her long spine would allow, hovering over Miki with her signature stern stare.

“Then what?” she hissed through pursed lips.

Miki winced, eyes darting back to the girl in question. He thought he recognized her from one of their Economics classes. The pretty and perfectly rounded girl had stretched out on the aged bench a few meters away from the one he and Jill had claimed.

The decrepit wood creaked in protest against the girl’s sudden movement. Miki was sure Jill heard it too.

“I think she can crush me,” he muttered.

Jill bit her lip, her eyes on the same scene. “You do bruise like an overripe mango.”

“See?” He grinned in triumph. He unlocked his tense limbs, glad the game of Find Miki a Girl to Ask Out had wound down. “Now what do you say we hit the library like we said we would before heading home?”

“This is hopeless,” Jill cut through him, wringing her hands. Apparently it was not game over yet. “I can’t be friends with an NGSB!”

Miki rolled his eyes. It was a habit he had picked up after years of hanging out with this girl. And it was a habit he’d used on her often, in times such as these when she claimed a term like NGSB. As in ‘No Girlfriend Since Birth.’ Miki sighed. Their bandmates Nino and Son almost died laughing when they first heard Jill say the term. But after those seemingly endless rounds of laughter they teamed up with Jill in her appeals to get Miki ‘exorcised’ from this condition. 

“Why not? It’s not a disease.” Miki felt he’d made this argument too many times already in the past few weeks.

Jill turned her entire body to face him, edging closer with one knee pulled up against her chest. “But you always tell me what to do with Kim. How can I trust your relationship advice when you’ve never even been in one?”

Her dark eyes were wide and grave. Miki knew she was serious, and funnily so, very much concerned about this whole issue. It was fine, though. He didn’t expect Jill to get it. That he didn’t need to be a girl’s boyfriend to be in love with her. Not all guys got to enjoy that luxury.

Of course she didn’t get it.

***

Read the rest of the story in author Ines Bautista-Yao‘s blog here. Thank you for the feature, Ines! MUAH <3

Songs to Get Over You is available on Amazon and in print here.

Book Review

Review and Excerpts: When Sparks Fly by Ines Bautista-Yao

Twenty-four-year-old photographer’s apprentice Regina has always felt like the plain, dull orange next to the shiny red apple that is her best friend Lana. But then she meets Ben—the first guy to ever break Lana’s heart, and the first guy to ever make Regina feel that he only has eyes for her. As Regina finds herself falling hard for Ben, she also finds herself breaking all the rules of best-friendship. Will she give up the love of her life for Lana, or will she finally realize that she deserves her share of the spotlight, too?

When Sparks Fly can be read as a standalone novel, but it is also a prequel to Ines Bautista-Yao’s other book Only A Kiss.

Hoes before bros. That’s the first official rule of bestfriendship as girls know it. And that’s the first thing that Regina grapples with when she finds herself falling for Ben, the guy her best friend Lana is still hung up on after he dumps her. When she stands still long enough though, Regina realizes that it’s much more than her possible violation of the golden rule of friendship that’s bothering her, and she has to figure things out at risk of losing both Ben and Lana.

I’ve been a fan of Ines Bautista-Yao since Only A Kiss, of how she weaves levity and easy kilig in her stories. When Sparks Fly sees her write with a bit more angst, a bit more grit, though she handles it with the same deft hand.

When-sparks-fly-ines-bautista-yao

Read it so you too will fall in love with Ben, with all his charms and his perfectly fitting polo shirts and his non-lines, and his deficiencies too (being a boy, tsk tsk). Read it so you too will root for Regina, and maybe relate as well with the balancing act she tries to pull, and truths and crevices in her friendship with Lana that she tries to negotiate. Read it for Lana, and Paolo too, if only because they’re fabulous.

Happy Release Day When Sparks Fly! Get it on Amazon now if you haven’t yet. Paperback will be available via the author soon.

Check out my reviews of Only A Kiss here and an interview with the author here.

Scroll down for excerpts from When Sparks Fly  🙂

***

Excerpt 1

 

Regina Salvador wasn’t too sure what she was doing at El Tomador on a work night. She had to be up and on location early the next morning, which was going to be in, oh, maybe three hours—the Philippine sun did have a habit of rising before six a.m. But she had promised her best friend Lana Lucero she’d be there to support her. To support her as she drank three boys under the table in a freaking drinking contest. Which just so happened to take place in a dark bar, hidden along one of the shadier streets of Makati, reeking of smoke and blasting grunge. What was this? A throwback to their college days?

Through narrowed eyes, she watched Lana chug down another tumbler of beer, the frothy amber liquid dribbling down the sides of her mouth, running down her neck, and soaking through the neckline of her white tank top, probably staining it forever. Why her friend thought she had to do these things, she would never know. When Lana triumphantly held the tumbler up and turned it face down to the whoops and cheers of the thickening crowd, Regina felt someone jostle her arm, causing her to lose her balance.

“Watch it!” she snapped, feeling the beginnings of a tirade gathering in the middle of her chest, just waiting to be released. She was tired and worried about Lana. She didn’t want to acknowledge it, but she thought she knew why her best friend was there. Regina didn’t even want to admit it to herself because that would mean her best friend had it really bad, but at the back of her mind, there was a nagging voice whining for attention, chanting one name: Ben. Ben. Ben. Ben Marquez who didn’t call her back after turning her world upside down and making her believe that she was the one—the one who was going to change him, the one who was going to make him forget about all the other girls in his life, the one he was finally going to settle down with—at their ripe old age of twenty-four. Right.

Regina had no idea who this Ben Marquez was. She had been out of town on another shoot when it apparently had all taken place. She was training to be a photographer under Paulo Javellana, one of the most sought-after lensmen in Manila. When she had gotten back from a beach shoot in Boracay, a gorgeous island of powdery white sand and clear blue water that was gaining popularity, Lana was already in tears. She had fallen in love, she said. She had finally found him. The one. The guy she was going to give up her wild, carefree days and take up an apron and a spatula for. Regina was sure Lana didn’t even know what a spatula was.

Lana had met him at this very bar, El Tomador, where their college friends hung out every Wednesday night after work. He was someone’s friend from high school and had wanted a change of scene. They’d had a drinking contest and he’d won. Lana was smitten. No one had ever beaten her before. That was all it took. She was his. But a few days later (“Days? How can you know you’ve found forever in a few days?” Regina was incensed. Her irresponsible best friend had always been flighty but this was the worst she’d seen her), he was gone. Not a call, not a text message, not an email. She actually began stalking him, driving by his apartment and dropping by places she thought she’d find him in. This was one of those places. And when Regina heard what she was planning to do, she insisted on coming along. No way was Lana going to make an utter fool of herself without backup, without someone to take her home at the very least.

So here she was, ready to snap someone’s head off just because he had bumped into her. “I’m so sorry. Did I hurt you?” He had puppy dog eyes. Round, dark brown, and piercing. Regina blinked, imagining herself getting lost in those warm pools, the angry words fizzling out on her tongue.

“Uh, no, I…” she stammered, unable to tear her gaze away. Well, he didn’t seem to be looking anywhere else either.

When he broke into a relieved grin, she found herself smiling too, the tirade all but a distant memory. What was wrong with her? She’d seen cute guys before, kissed a few of them too. But this one’s eyes made her feel as if she weren’t in a noisy bar worrying about her best friend drowning her brain cells in alcohol.

“Did you want another drink?” He gestured toward her empty glass. Which had been filled with water earlier.

Regina twisted her lips in a grimace. “No, I can’t. I have to be at the bus terminal at five.”

“Five this morning?” His eyebrows shot up. “That’s like three hours away.”

“Yeah. I like living dangerously.” She felt her lips twitch.

He laughed. And she felt as if she had hit all three cherries on a slot machine. She usually didn’t talk to strange guys in a bar, especially those with eyes that pulled you in like magnets. But then again.

“I think a cup of coffee is your best bet.” He didn’t even wait for her to agree. He wove his way through the heated bodies cheering someone else on and asked the bartender for the unexpected drink.

Regina watched him walk away. He was in a long-sleeved blue shirt and dark pants. He probably worked in an office or something boring like that. She rebelled against what she called the corporate life. She hated dressing in clothes people wore to an office. She had no idea what they consisted of anyway, unless Paulo had to shoot them for a magazine spread. But otherwise, she lived in jeans, oversized t-shirts, and Doc Martens. With the ease in his movements, this guy looked like he lived in office clothes. She could easily picture him in jeans and a tee though. And that made her smile.

“Reg! What are you smiling at? Why weren’t you watching me?” a slightly slurry Lana yelled in her ear.

Regina’s smile dropped from her face and she grabbed her best friend’s upper arms, shaking her slightly. “Are you okay?”

“God, Reg, what’s wrong with you? Of course, I’m okay!” Lana swung herself free from Regina’s grasp. “I won! And you didn’t even see!”

That’s right. She didn’t. She was too busy being charmed by… where was he anyway? She looked behind her, convinced that Lana would understand once she met him. But he seemed to have disappeared. Was she that exhausted that she had imagined him?

“You!”

“Hi, Lana. Congratulations.”

Regina spun around to see who Lana was shooting daggers at with her wide, flaming eyes. Her heart sank to her stomach when she saw who it was. He was smiling at her best friend, holding coffee in a paper cup.

“Is that for me?” The anger in Lana’s face was receding, as if she was willing to accept a peace offering from him. Any peace offering.

But he didn’t take the hint. Or maybe, wouldn’t.

“No, this is for…” He turned to Regina and smiled again. “I’m sorry, we never introduced ourselves. I’m Ben.”

Holy Crap.

****

Excerpt 2

 

There was a slight commotion by the entrance of the dark studio as a few guys in what looked like different kinds of Nike shirts walked in. The ubiquitous swoosh (or what Regina called the check mark) gave them away. They headed straight for the throng around the makeup chairs and began chattering with the players. Since she had nothing to do, Regina watched them. They were probably sponsors and wanted to make sure the players wore their clothes and no other brand. She rolled her eyes. How was this even relevant when they were hardly going to be clothed?

“You look like you’re hard at work.”

“You know how it is,” she mumbled, thinking it was one of the magazine editors or advertising executives she had met earlier. Her eyes were still on the guys who had just entered.

“Hi, Regina.”

That made her look up. Goodness, what was he doing here? Her heart began to hammer in her chest.

“Ben.”

“It’s great to see you.” His eyes crinkled up when he smiled. He was in another long-sleeved dress shirt, a light pink one this time, and dark pants. His tie was a no-nonsense striped one, unlike the printed ones she was seeing more and more often on the corporate guys who hired Paulo.

She shook her head, leaning as far away from him as possible as he pulled up a plastic chair. “No, you’re not hanging out here with me,” she protested. “I’m getting ready for the shoot.”

He tilted his head for a few seconds, plopped himself down on the chair, and bent forward—close enough for her to see that his eyes were dark brown with flecks of gold. Or was that just the light coming from the makeup mirrors? Probably. It wasn’t like he was part vampire or something. “Yeah, you look really busy.”

“I am! I have to…” She couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Even the stupid box of Polaroids mocked her by just resting in her hand.

“You have nothing better to do. So why not just kill time with me?” He grinned. Then she saw him swallow and take a deep breath as if psyching himself up for something. “So, did you get my message?”

With a little sigh, Regina decided to ease her grip on the brick wall she’d conjured up around her heart. She didn’t have the energy to fight it anymore. Not after all those nights of cramming senseless cartoons and TV shows into her brain to push thoughts of him away. Not after berating herself for not being able to forget someone she had talked to for what wasn’t even a few minutes. Not with him sitting this close.

Putting the Polaroid box down, she turned her whole body to face him. She studied his expression. He looked confident, which was what she had noticed the first time they’d met. But there was something behind that playful, carefree grin. Was it actually vulnerability? She wanted to find out. Or at least, that was the excuse she gave herself.

“Yes, and I threw it away. Is that how you usually get the girls? By scribbling your number on a coffee cup?”

He closed his eyes and winced. “No it’s …”

She waited, crossing her arms, knowing all she had to do was keep her mouth shut and the truth was bound to come out.

“All right, it’s worked before,” he admitted with a shrug.

“So it’s one of your methods.”

“Look, Regina, I’m really sorry about Lana. But I made it clear from the start that we were just hanging out. She was the one who started talking about forever. Believe me, I quickly corrected her and she seemed to understand.”

Regina narrowed her eyes. She wanted to believe him. She wanted to believe him so badly. He looked so frustrated, open, sincere, and…cute. There it was. Her remaining hold on that brick wall crumbled. “Fine. I believe you. Lana can be a bit, uh, over the top sometimes.”

He broke into a huge smile. “Yes! I didn’t want to say anything, I know she’s your friend—”

“Best friend,” Regina corrected.

“Best friend.” He nodded, contrite. “But I did not lead her on. I didn’t even, well, you know.”

Regina tilted her head. “No, I don’t.”

His cheeks reddened. “Uh, nothing. So aren’t you wondering what I’m doing here?”

“Okay. What are you doing here?” Regina didn’t want to hear the details about him and Lana anyway.

“I actually have to interview a few of the players. I need some inside info for the game tomorrow and I want to be ready. Besides, a shoot like this is always something fun to add when there’s nothing else to talk about.”

Regina frowned. “What game? You stalk players because you need conversation topics when you pick up girls? That’s pathetic, Ben.”

His laugh was warm and loud. “No! I need it when I describe basketball games as they unfold. Makes things more interesting to have tidbits of information if it gets boring. You never know.”

“You describe games.”

“On TV!” He beamed, his chest thrusting out a little.

Regina couldn’t help the grin that broke her guarded countenance. “So you’re a sportscaster, is that what you’ve been trying to tell me? Or did you think I already knew that because you think being on TV makes you a celebrity?”

“No, of course not!” But he looked guilty. It dawned on her that besides his good looks and his charm, being a TV personality—even a mini one—could be a big draw for most girls. But see, she wasn’t like most girls. He’d have to try harder than that. But then again, that meant she wasn’t shutting the door on him. She was letting him try. Against her better judgment. Against all the rules of best friendship. “But I was….hoping you knew. At the very least it’s something I could impress you with.”

His smile was genuine. He was making fun of himself now. And Regina’s heart melted. She didn’t fall for the celebrity. But the celebrity (okay, miniscule celebrity) who had the confidence to mock his status? Well, that was another story.